2015 THP Inspiration: Medical Hacks

Last year’s Hackaday Prize focused on building something cool, useful, and open. This led to builds as impressive as quadcopters nicknamed the Decapitron, to devices as useful as an Everything Radio. It’s a big field, and if you want to build something that will win, you first need an idea.

This year we’re making that part of the process a little easier for you. We’re looking for builds that matter, be they devices that monitor pollution, feed entire populations, lay the groundwork for powering an entire city, or reduce the cost and increase access to medical care.

pillminderMedical builds are a tricky subject, but over the years we’ve seen a few that stand out. Some can be as simple as a pill dispenser that tells the Internet when you don’t take your meds. This type of build is actually pretty popular with several iterations, one that works with pill bottles.

Maybe a gadget you could find in a drug store isn’t your thing. That’s okay, instead you can turn your attention to advanced medical imaging, like 3D printing a brain tumor and preventing a misdiagnosis. We’ve seen 3D printed MRI and CT scans for a while now, and coming up with a system that automates the process would be a great entry for the Hackaday prize.

prosOf course with 3D printers, you have a bunch of prosthesis applications; from a nine-year-old who designed his own prosthetic arm, a printed prosthetic arm for a stranger, or something simpler like our own [Bil Herd]’s quest to rebuild a finger.

These are all simple builds, but ones that clearly meet the criteria of doing something meaningful. The sky is the limit, and if you want to improve the desktop CT scanner, learn CPR (correctly) from an automated assistant, or be brought back to life with your own design, that’s all well within the goals of this year’s Hackaday Prize.

Hacklet 28 – Programmable Logic Hacks

FPGAs, CPLDs, PALs, and GALs, Oh My! This week’s Hacklet focuses on some of the best Programmable Logic projects on Hackaday.io! Programmable logic devices tend to have a steep learning curve.  Not only is a new hacker learning complex parts, but there are entire new languages to learn – like VHDL or Verilog. Taking the plunge and jumping in to programmable logic is well worth it though. High-speed projects which would be impossible with microcontrollers are suddenly within reach!

fpga-hdmiA great example of this is [Tom McLeod’s] Cheap FPGA-based HDMI Experimenting Board. [Tom’s] goal was to create a board which could output 720p video via HDMI at a reasonable frame rate. He’s using a Xilinx Spartan 6 chip to do it, along with a handful of support components. The images will be stored on an SD card. [Tom] is hoping to do some video with the setup as well, but he has yet to see if the chip will be fast enough to handle video decoding while generating the HDMI data stream. [Tom] has been quiet on this project for a few months – so we’re hoping that either he will see this post and send an update, or that someone will pick up his source files and continue the project!

ardufpgaNext up is our own [technolomaniac] with his Arduino-Compatible FPGA Shield. Starting out with FPGAs can be difficult. [Technolomaniac] has made it a bit easier with this shield. Originally started as a project on .io and now available in The Hackaday Store, the shield features a Xilinx Spartan 6 FPGA. [Technolomaniac] made power and interfacing easy by including regulators and level shifters to keep the sensitive FPGA happy. Not sure where to start? Check out [Mike Szczys’] Spartan-6 FPGA Hello World! [Mike] takes us from installing Xilinx’s free tool chain to getting a “hello world” led blinker running!

lander3Still interested in learning about Programmable Logic, but not sure where to go? Check out [Bruce Land’s] Teaching FPGA parallel computing. Actually, check out everything [Bruce] has done on Hackaday.io – the man is a living legend, and a wealth of information on electronics and embedded systems. Being a professor of engineering at New York’s Cornell University doesn’t hurt either! In Teaching FPGA parallel computing, [Bruce] links to Cornell’s ECE 5760 class, which he instructs. The class uses an Altera/Terasic DE2 FPGA board to demonstrate parallel computing using programmable logic devices. Note that [Bruce] teaches this class using Verilog, so all you seasoned VHDL folks still can learn something new!


chamFinally, we have [Michael A. Morris] with Chameleon. Chameleon is an Arduino compatible FPGA board with a Xilinx Spartan 3A FPGA on-board. [Michael] designed Chameleon for two major purposes:  soft-core processors, and intelligent serial communications interface. On the processor side Chameleon really shines. [Michael] has implemented a 6502 core in his design. This means that it would be right at home as the core of a retrocomputing project. [Michael] is still hard at work on Chameleon, he’s recently gotten fig-FORTH 1.0 running! Nice work [Michael]!

Want more programmable logic goodness? Check out our Programmable Logic List!

That about wraps things up for this episode of The Hacklet! As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Hacklet 27 – Holiday Hacks

It’s beginning to look a lot like the holidays around here. That means it’s time for holiday hacks here on The Hacklet! This week we’re looking at the coolest festive hacks created by YOU on Hackaday.io!

xmashdrWe start with [charliex] and Cypress PSOC 4 + ESP8266 WS2812 RGB XMAS Lights. The name might be a mouthful, but the goal of the project is a simple one: Awesome Christmas lights! [Charliex] has created WiFi controllable Christmas lights. To do this, he’s utilized ARM core based PSOC4 chips from Cypress. WiFi duty is handled by the popular ESP8266 module, and the lights themselves are WS2812 addressable strips.

[charliex] really outdid himself this time, creating a complete solution from the ground up. He started with a Cypress dev board, but quickly moved to a board of his own design. The PCBs  first were milled at home, then sent out for manufacturing.
Control of the strip is via UDP through a WiFi network. [Charliex] found the strips have plenty of WiFi range to place outside his home.  The last part of the puzzle was control – which [charliex] handled in style by creating his own GUI to handle synchronizing several strips to music played on a central computer.

snowflakeNext up is [nsted] with another LED hack, Glowing Xmas Snowflake Sculpture. [Nsted] was contracted to add some extra LED bling to a sculpture. The problem was that these LEDs would be filling in gaps left in the primary interactive lighting system which ran the entire sculpture. Any time you have to meld two systems, things can get crazy. [Nsted] found this out as he added WS2812B Adafruit NeoPixel strips to the Sensacell modules already designed into the sculpture. Communications happen via RS485, with Arduino Due and Megas handling the processing. Power was a concern with this sculpture, as it was pulling over 100 amps at low voltage. Like many art installations, this was a “work down to the wire” event. Everything came together at the last-minute though, and the project was a success!

musicNext up is [Jeremy Weatherford] with Christmas Orchestra.  [Jeremy] has taken on the task of making the most epic retro electronics orchestra ever created. He’s playing Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Wizards in Winter on four floppies, three scanners, and an ancient inkjet printer. LED strips on the moving elements add lights to the sound. An Arduino Mega with a RAMPS board controls the show. [Jeremy] had his orchestra professionally recorded both on audio and in video. We’re anxiously awaiting the final video upload so we can rock out to some old hardware!

xmaslightsFinally, we’ve got [crenn6977] with his Solar powered Christmas Light Controller. This was [crenn6977’s] entry in the The Hackaday Prize. While it didn’t take him to space, we’re sure it will bring Santa to his door. Rather than run lots of tiny solar cells for his Sun powered Christmas lights, [crenn6977] is going for a single large panel and wireless control. The nRF24L01+ is handling the wireless connectivity, while a STM32F042 ARM cortex M0 processor is the brains of the operation. Solar power demands efficient design, so [crenn6977] is digging deep into op-amp circuits to keep those LEDs running through the night, and the batteries charging through the day.

It’s just about time for us to settle our brains for a long winter’s nap, so we’ll close this edition of The Hacklet here.  As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Hackerspace Tours: London Hackspace

On the way back from Hackaday Munich a couple of us got the chance to stop off in the UK, so we thought we’d take the opportunity to visit London Hackspace. With close to 1100 members and more than 6500 sq ft of space over two floors, it has to be one of the largest hackerspaces we’ve seen. [Russ Garrett] and [Jasper Wallis] were kind enough to show us around.  Continue reading “Hackerspace Tours: London Hackspace”

Hacklet 21 – Halloween Hacks Part 2

We asked, you listened! Last weeks Hacklet ended with a call for more Halloween themed projects on Hackaday.io. Some great hackers uploaded awesome projects, and this week’s Hacklet is all about featuring them. Every one of our featured projects was uploaded to Hackaday.io within the last 7 days.

masseffect2Mass Effect meets Daft Punk in [TwystNeko’s] 5-Day SpeedBuild Mass Effect Armor.  As the name implies, [TwystNeko] built the armor in just 5 days. Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam was used to make most of the costume. Usually EVA foam needs to be sealed. To save time, [TwystNeko] skipped that step, and just brushed on some gold acrylic paint.  The actual cuts were based on an online template [TwystNeko] found. To top the armor off, [TwystNeko] used a custom built Daft Punk Guy Manuel helmet. Nice!


rat[Griff] wins for the creepiest project this week with Rat Bristlebot. Taking a page from the Evil Mad Scientist Labs book, [Griff] built a standard bristlebot based on a toothbrush and a vibrating pager motor. He topped off the bristlebot with a small rubber rat body from the party store. The rat did make the ‘bot move a bit slower, but it still was plenty entertaining for his son. [Griff] plans to use a CdS cell to make the rat appear to scamper when room lights are turned on. Scurrying rats will have us running for the hills for sure!

pumpkin[MagicWolfi] was created Pumpkin-O-Chain to light up Halloween around the house. This build was inspired by [Jeri Ellsworth’s] motion sensing barbot dress from 2011. Pumpkin-O-Chain uses the a similar RC delay line with 74HC14 inverters to make the LEDs switch on in sequence. He wanted the delay to be a bit longer than [Jeri’s] though, so he switched to 100K ohm resistors in this build. The result is a nice effect which is triggered when someone passes the PIR motion sensor.

pumpkinlite[Petri] got tired of his Jack-o’-lantern candles burning out, so he built his own Pumpkin Light. The light made its debut last year with a Teensy 2.0++ running the show. This year, [Petri] decided to go low power and switched to an MSP430 processor on one of TI’s launchpad boards. With plenty of outputs available on the Teensy and the MSP430, [Petri] figured he might as well use and RGB LED. The new improved Jack-o’-lantern can run for hours with no risk of fire.

We ccuth2an’t end this week without mentioning [Griff’s] updated Crochet Cthulhu Mask. We featured the mask in last week’s Hacklet, and called  [Griff] out for an update. Well, the final project is up, and it looks great! We’re sure [Griff’s] son will be raking in the candy this year!

It’s time for trick-or-treating, which means we have to end this episode of The Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Hacklet 20 – Halloween Hacks


Hey, did you know that Hackaday.io is continuously being updated and improved? One of the coolest features this week is the new LaTeX based equation editor. That’s right, you can now put symbols, equations, and all sorts of other LaTeX goodies into your posts. Check out [Brian Benchoff’s] LaTeX demo project for more information.

Every holiday is a season for hacks, but Halloween has to be one of the best. From costumes to decorations, there are just tons of opportunities for great projects. We know that with an entire week left before the big day, most of you are still working on your projects. However a few early bird hackers already have Halloween themed projects up on Hackaday.io. We’re featuring them here – on the Hacklet!

pumpkin1[philmajestic] is in the Halloween spirit with his AVR Halloween Pumpkin. [Phil] created a motion activated Jack-o’-lantern with an ATmega328 as its brain. The AVR monitors a PIR motion sensor. When motion is detected, it flashes Jack’s LED eyes and plays spooky sound files from a WTV-020-16sd audio player. This is a great example of how a bit of work can create something cooler and infinitely more flexible than a store-bought decoration. Nice work [Phil]!

littlebitsPortraitThe littleBits crew have been working overtime on Halloween hacks this year. We definitely like their Halloween Creepy Portrait. A motion trigger, a servo, and a few glue bits are all it take to turn a regular portrait into a creepy one. When the motion detector is triggered, the servo moves a paper behind the portrait’s eyes. The replacement eyes look like some sort of demon or cat. Definitely enough to give us nightmares!

ironman[jeromekelty] helped his friend [Greg] build an incredible Animatronic Iron Man MKIII suit. The suit features RFID tags which trigger suit features. Since we’re talking about an Iron Man suit, “features” are things like shoulder rockets, boot thrusters, and a helmet that lifts up to reveal “Tony Stark”. No less than four Arduinos handle the various I/O’s. The suit even features an Adafruit WaveShield for authentic sounds! The electronics are just one piece of the puzzle here. [Greg] is a card-carrying member of the Replica Prop Forum. His MKIII suit is incredibly detailed. We especially like the weathering and battle damage!

tenticlesFinally, [Griff’s] son is going to be wearing a Crochet Cthulhu Mask, with Arduino controlled tentacles for Halloween this year. [Griff] is an experienced crochet hobbiest. He’s mixing his love of needlework with his love of electronics to build the animated Cthulhu mask for his 4-year-old son. The mask is based on a free crochet pattern from ravelry, though [Griff] is making quite a few changes to support his application. The mask will be smaller to fit a 4-year-old, and will contain servos to move the tentacles. We haven’t heard from [Griff] in a while, so if you see him, tell him to post an update on the mask!

If you haven’t started working on your Halloween hacks, get busy! But don’t forget to upload them to Hackaday.io! If we get enough, we’ll run a second Hacklet with even more great projects. Until then, you can check out our Halloween Projects List!

That’s about it for this frightful episode The Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Thermal Printer Brain Transplant is Two Hacks in One

You know how sometimes you just can’t resist collecting old hardware, so you promise yourself that you will get around to working on it some day? [Danny] actually followed through on one of those promises after discovering an old Radio Shack TRS-80 TP-10 thermal printer in one of his boxes of old gear. It looks similar to a receipt printer you might see printing receipts at any brick and mortar store today. The original printer worked well enough, but [Danny] wasn’t satisfied with its 32 character per line limitation. He also wanted to be able to print more complex graphics. To accomplish this goal, he realized he was going to have to give this printer a brain transplant.

First, [Danny] wanted to find new paper for the printer. He only had one half of a roll left and it was 30 years old. He quickly realized that he could buy thermal paper for fax machines, but it would be too wide at 8.5 inches. Luckily, he was able to use a neighbor’s saw to cut the paper down to the right size. After a test run, he knew he was in business. The new fax paper actually looked better than the old stuff.

The next step was to figure out exactly how this printer works. If he was going to replace the CPU, he was going to need to know exactly how it functioned. He started by looking at the PCB to determine the various primary functions of the printer. He needed to know which functions were controlled by which CPU pins. After some Google-Fu, [Danny] was able to find the original manual for the printer. He was lucky in that the manual contained the schematic for the circuit.

Once he knew how everything was hooked up, [Danny] realized that he would need to learn how the CPU controlled all of the various functions. A logic analyzer would make his work much easier, but he didn’t happen to have one lying around. [Danny] he did what any skilled hacker would do. He built his own!

He built the analyzer around an ATMega664. It can sample eight signals every three microseconds. He claims it will fill its 64k of memory in about one fifth of a second. He got his new analyzer hooked up to the printer and then got to work coding his own logic visualization software. This visualization would provide him with a window to the inner workings of the circuit.

Now that he was able to see exactly how the printer functioned, [Danny] knew he would be able to code new software into a bigger and badder CPU. He chose to use another ATMega microcontroller. After a fair bit of trial and error, [Danny] ended up with working firmware. The new firmware can print up to 80 characters per line, which is more than double the original amount. It is also capable of printing simple black and white graphics.

[Danny] has published the source code and schematics for all of his circuits and utilities. You can find them at the bottom of his project page. Also, be sure to catch the demonstration video below. Continue reading “Thermal Printer Brain Transplant is Two Hacks in One”